From Russia, with Cher, Part II

by David Morgan
in On the Digital Edge

Selecting the The 12-hour time difference between Moscow and Los Angeles definitely caused gaps in communication. Upon hearing the news that the Avid VENUE Profile consoles were unavailable, monitor mixer Brian Hendry and I cobbled together a modified equipment spec for the rehearsal day in Moscow. Both of us decided to go with small analog consoles, as neither of us would have time to program an unfamiliar digital desk. However, when we arrived at work for the last day of rehearsal in Los Angeles, we were greeted with the news that the Avid consoles were now going to be in place on the Moscow rehearsal day. The upward trend was definitely continuing. Travel to Moscow from Los Angeles takes 17 hours and includes an intermediate stop, but good things were still coming our way. In an act of immense consideration and generosity, the event planners were kind enough to issue business class seating for the entourage. We arrived in Moscow at 8:00 p.m. and were on a minibus by 9:30pm. It was then, however, that our good fortune took a brief hiatus. The traffic coming in to the city from Sheremetyevo Airport was abominable, even at this late hour. It took about two and a half hours to make the short trip into the city.
It turned out that the traffic was but a brief hiccup in our trend of positive experiences. Our hotel accommodations at the Ritz Carlton were outstanding. Upon check-in, the beautiful ladies at the front desk uttered the words that bring a smile to every traveler’s face in Europe, “Breakfast is included in your room rate.”  The bed in my room was both welcoming and incredibly comfortable. Breakfast was ample and delicious. We went to work in the morning with smiles on our faces.
» The New Moscow
My last visit to Moscow was in 1989, when I was traveling with Paul Simon on the final leg of the Graceland tour. As we drove from the hotel to the rehearsal venue, I was astounded by the vast changes in the city. The austerity and starkness that characterized Moscow during those final days of the Communist regime had given way to an aura of prosperity, and the streets bustled with activity. Christmas decorations were everywhere and abundantly displayed. The economic and cultural transformation represented a 180-degree change in the great city I had experienced during its lowest point of economic decline.
» Back to Work
The rehearsal day was long, but very productive. When I save a show on an Avid VENUE desk to be installed on another VENUE, I always save using the “Console” option on the Options>Filing>Transfer page, shown in Fig 1. Choosing this option saves all the parameters of the computer, including all Windows files, and ensures that I am beginning my work on identical platforms.
The show day began well enough. The venue was a truly beautiful facility that was the size of a large hotel ballroom, typically wider than it was deep. I was lucky enough to be allotted an on-center mix position within a scaffolding tower that was to be used for video cameras. The installed L-Acoustics PA was exactly as described and was very well arrayed for covering the seating area. The local sound guys had done a great job. They were knowledgeable, helpful, cheerful and spoke English with total facility.
I supplied five outputs for left and right main arrays, subs, frontfills and outfills. When our turn came up, I was allowed adequate time to EQ the various PA elements, make adjustments to their placement and tweak the time delay for the subs, frontfills and outfills. I used a combination of the graphic equalizers and the delays on the console outputs plus Waves H-EQ parametric equalizers to accomplish these tasks. When I finished this part of my work, the entire room sounded excellent. When we played back the stems from Pro Tools, everyone agreed the place sounded great in every location. But this was the point at which our good luck finally ran out.
» Acoustic Sabotage!
The event planners and set decorators soon began their artistic/acoustic sabotage in the insidious way that is so often committed by members of this genus throughout the world. The first impediment to audio was the placement of far-too-dense black material that masked the entire downstage side of the sound wings. I cried, “Foul!” to anyone who would listen, but my protests fell on deaf ears. Adding further insult to injury, the visual geniuses then placed a heavily painted scrim in front of this already impervious-to-audio black material, thus ensuring that no sound could possibly penetrate this formidable barrier.
Sound check was essentially useless. Nothing was done in time to counteract the changes to performance parameters that had taken place after all the tuning work on the PA had been completed. As we departed the stage, we vehemently requested that the dense black backing material be removed from all the scaffold bays that contained audio elements. However, when we returned to the venue for the performance, we just had to laugh. Rather than removing the offending black material from the entire 8-by-8 foot scaffolding bays, rectangular openings that were exactly the width and height of the speaker enclosures had been created. The 90- to 110-degree horizontal dispersion of the KUDO array meant that plenty of audio would still be reflected directly back onto the stage and that large areas of the audience would have less than optimal audio coverage.
The comedy of errors continued when I walked out to the FOH mix position. Sometime after our sound check, the designers had raided my area and enclosed my position with thick, red drapery, leaving a 4-by-8 foot window for me to hear the show. I pleaded to no avail to have the material raised from the front, back and sides. I only succeeded in getting the opening in the front enlarged by a couple of feet.
» Showtime!
When the show began, Cher came out slamming. Her voice was strong and clear. The tracks were working well, and the dancers were lighting up the stage. But midway through that first song, the musical director crawled into my enclosed area and said the music tracks were too quiet in the house. But he immediately noticed that the balance in my little room was perfect because the fabric walls were focusing the sound energy. We decided immediately that he would communicate with me by sign language from outside my “tent” as each song began to achieve the correct balance between music and the vocals. I was rapidly becoming intellectually and emotionally exhausted. It had all been going so well…
Despite the roadblocks and audio hazards, the end result was an excellent performance by Cher, the singers and the dancers. Luckily, most of the audience crowded in front of the stage and their audio experience was not too adversely affected by the obstructions to the PA coverage. It was a fantastic treat to hear Cher singing again. I have loved her voice since I first heard “I Got You, Babe” as a teenager in the 1960s. We are all hoping for a tour commencing in 2013 following the release of her new CD.